Auspicious Chinese New Year Dishes

My Mom and I had the good fortune of being invited to a lavish Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner at the home of our friends, James & Elizabeth Wong, who had rushed back from a stay in Hong Kong to prepare and host the dinner for a small group of family and friends.

As dictated by Chinese tradition and superstition, there are a host of dishes to be served and eaten during the Chinese New Year season – starting on Chinese New Year Eve and continuing through the 15th day after New Year’s Day with the celebration of the Lantern Festival. These dishes are thought to bring good luck during the year, based on their names or appearance. There are many lists and examples presented on the Internet.

Chinese New Year foods 840e912f8b7c47aca7eb0b0e

The dishes James & Elizabeth provided showed their particular thought and care, not only for the symbolism of the names and ingredients of the dishes, but also for their appearance and actual taste.They were so special that we asked James if he would provide detailed descriptions to accompany the photos we took of the dishes. Together, they document a 5 1/2 hour dinner that offers to bring extraordinary auspiciousness to all the participants.

 

Couplets hanging about the fireplace wishing out the old year
Our happy group of James & Elizabeth’s family and friends
NV Bollinger Champagne Special Cuvée Brut

Our first wine: NV Bollinger Champagne Special Cuvée Brut as an aperitif, which we enjoyed while James was cooking.

🐖紅燒乳豬 • Roasted Suckling Pig
🐖紅燒乳豬 • Roasted Suckling Pig
🐖紅燒乳豬 • Roasted Suckling Pig with Pomelo and Hoisin Sauce
🐖紅燒乳豬 • Roasted Suckling Pig with Pomelo and Hoisin Sauce
🐖紅燒乳豬 • Roasted Suckling Pig with Pomelo and Hoisin Sauce

🐖紅燒乳豬 • Roasted Suckling Pig

The culinary history of a roasted pig in China goes back more than 1,400 years. From the Southern and Northern Periods 南北朝, records showed 22 different recipes to roast a pig.  In central and southern China, it is customary that a roasted pig is presented to the ancestors on Ching Ming Festival 清明節 (Tomb Sweeping Day). The tradition of consuming a roasted pig during a large family gathering extended beyond the Tomb Sweeping Day and the pig is nowadays featured wherever there is a major celebration or a feast, particularly in Cantonese communities.

1995 Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne

This 1995 vintage Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, while aged, still drank beautifully and went nicely with the lusciousness of the Roasted Suckling Pig.

🥬發財好市 • Braised Dried Oysters (蠔豉) with Black Moss Seaweed (髮菜), Lettuce (生菜) and Dried Chinese Shiitake Mushrooms
🥬發財好市 • Braised Dried Oysters (蠔豉) with Black Moss Seaweed (髮菜), Lettuce (生菜) and Dried Chinese Shiitake Mushrooms
🥬發財好市 • Braised Dried Oysters (蠔豉) with Black Moss Seaweed (髮菜), Lettuce (生菜) and Dried Chinese Shiitake Mushrooms

🥬發財好市 • Braised Dried Oysters (蠔豉) with Black Moss Seaweed (髮菜), Lettuce (生菜) and Dried Chinese Shiitake Mushrooms

This is a traditional New Year dish in Cantonese speaking communities. It is invariably featured in New Year meals at home and in restaurants. Most of the ingredients rhyme with phrases of good fortune in the Cantonese dialect. The homonyms are 發財~髮菜 (make a fortune);好市~蠔豉 (good business);生財~生菜 (grow a fortune)

🐟漁人得利 • Steamed Fish Filet with Sliced Pork Tongue
🐟漁人得利 • Steamed Fish Filet with Sliced Pork Tongue

🐟漁人得利 • Steamed Fish Filet with Sliced Pork Tongue

From the idiom 年年有餘 (surplus every year), fish (魚) has become an essential food ingredient around the New Year because 魚 and 餘 are homonyms. (Usually the fish is not eaten but carried over to the new year to symbolize surplus. We had leftover fish!) Tongue (脷) is another popular food ingredient in New Year meals because 脷 and 利, meaning profit or benefit, are also homonyms. This homonym pair works only in Cantonese because in Mandarin, tongue is written as 舌 and pronounced differently. Note that tongue is usually mixed in and cooked with the oyster dish described above (發財好市 ,生財大利 lettuce and large tongue).

I picked the name 漁人得利 for this dish because it contains homonyms for both surplus (漁=魚 and 餘) and profit (利 and 脷). The phrase came from the second part of the idiom 鷸蚌相爭、漁人得利, which literally means “when the snipe and the clam fight, the fisherman nets the benefits (both the clam and the snipe)”. The story – when two sides quarrel, it is always the third party who benefits – on which this idiom is based (https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/鷸蚌相爭,漁人得利) dates back to the Warring States period of ancient Chinese history. I created this dish a few years ago not just because it features two popular New Year food ingredients (fish and tongue) but to remind myself to be in harmony with others (和氣), living up to the New Year idiom 和氣生財 (peace brings money).

🐟漁人得利 • Steamed Fish Filet with Sliced Pork Tongue
🐟漁人得利 • Steamed Fish Filet with Sliced Pork Tongue and 🥬發財好市 • Braised Dried Oysters (蠔豉) with Black Moss Seaweed (髮菜), Lettuce (生菜) and Dried Chinese Shiitake Mushrooms
2007 Jacques Bavard Bourgogne-Aligoté Puligny-Montrachet

A wonderful 2007 Jacques Bavard Bourgogne-Aligoté Puligny-Montrachet to accompany the Braised Dried Oysters and Steamed Fish Filet

🐓薑蓉鹽焗雞 • Chicken Baked in Salt, served with Minced Ginger Sauce
🐓薑蓉鹽焗雞 • Chicken Baked in Salt, served with Minced Ginger Sauce
🐓薑蓉鹽焗雞 • Chicken Baked in Salt, served with Minced Ginger Sauce

🐓薑蓉鹽焗雞 • Chicken Baked in Salt, served with Minced Ginger Sauce

Chicken is not an everyday dish in southern China and is reserved for special occasion meals. Chicken baked in salt is a famous 東江 and 客家 Hakka dish originated more than 300 years ago from the salt fields of Guangdong Province, it is nowadays seldom prepared at home and not often found on restaurants menus (unless preordered a day in advance).

清炒蘆筍 • Sautéed Asparagus

清炒蘆筍 • Sautéed Asparagus

Just using up surplus asparagus from an upcoming dish. Read on for hidden meaning!

🥕🥒葡汁焗六蔬 • Baked Six Vegetables in a Mild Portuguese Curry Sauce
(西蘭花、台山菜花、紅蘿蔔、夏南瓜、蘑菇、洋蔥)

🥕🥒葡汁焗六蔬 • Baked Six Vegetables in a Mild Portuguese Curry Sauce(西蘭花、台山菜花、紅蘿蔔、夏南瓜、蘑菇、洋蔥)

This dish usually features 4 vegetables. However, four 四 rhymes with 死, which means death, and thus not a good omen for the New Year. Therefore 2 vegetables were added to make the number 6 六 which rhymes with 祿 (福祿壽), meaning blessings, happiness and prosperity.

🥩燒烤肋眼牛扒 • Broiled Ribeye Cap Steak, served with Tricolor Sweet Peppers
🥩燒烤肋眼牛扒 • Broiled Ribeye Cap Steak, served with Tricolor Sweet Peppers
🥩燒烤肋眼牛扒 • Broiled Ribeye Cap Steak, served with Tricolor Sweet Peppers
🥩燒烤肋眼牛扒 • Broiled Ribeye Cap Steak, served with Tricolor Sweet Peppers

🥩燒烤肋眼牛扒 • Broiled Ribeye Cap Steak, served with Tricolor Sweet Peppers

Beef is not a traditional Chinese New Year dinner dish. But we were celebrating New Year in New York ….

2012 Cantine San Marzano Collezione Cinquanta Salento IGT

2012 Cantine San Marzano Collezione Cinquanta Salento IGT

1996 Château Gruaud Larose

1996 Château Gruaud Larose

Two nice reds to accompany the delicious steak and vegetables.

🏎一路順暢 • Grilled Asparagus with Chinese Sausage

🏎一路順暢 • Grilled Asparagus with Chinese Sausage

The name of the dish literally means “one smooth journey”. The word play here is that 路順 (smooth road) and 蘆筍 (asparagus) are homonyms, as well as 暢 (unobstructed) and 腸 (sausage). The ingredients were plated in straight lines in foil trays to emphasize smoothness.

臘味拼盤 • Steamed Assorted Air-dried Meats (pork and duck) and Sausages (liver)
臘味拼盤 • Steamed Assorted Air-dried Meats (pork and duck) and Sausages (liver)
臘味拼盤 • Steamed Assorted Air-dried Meats (pork and duck) and Sausages (liver)
臘味拼盤 • Steamed Assorted Air-dried Meats (pork and duck) and Sausages (liver)
臘味飯 • Rice Cooked with Steamed Assorted Air-dried Meats

臘味飯 • Rice Cooked with Steamed Assorted Air-dried Meats

Steaming rice with the Assorted Air-dried Meats gives the rice a delicious flavor and aroma from the meats.

🥥椰汁年糕 • Coconut Flavored Glutinous New Year Cake

🥥椰汁年糕 • Coconut Flavored Glutinous New Year Cake

“Chinese New Year cakes can be eaten year round, but traditionally, they’re served around Chinese New Year to celebrate the holiday. In Mandarin it’s called 年糕 (Niángāo) and the literal transition of that is Year Cake. Because the second word 糕 also sounds like the word “higher” in Chinese, it was thought to be a lucky food as eating cake would help you achieve a higher status or prosperity.” (From Angel Wong’s Kitchen http://www.angelwongskitchen.com)

🍊水果 • Fruits (Tangerines 柑 and Persimmons)
🍊水果 • Fruits (Tangerines 柑 and Persimmons)
🍊水果 • Fruits (Tangerines 柑 and Persimmons)

🍊水果 • Fruits (Tangerines 柑 and Persimmons)

柑 and 金 (gold) are homonyms. Also, the golden orange color of tangerines and persimmons symbolized a bowl of gold.

Thank you, James & Elizabeth, for such an auspicious welcome to the Year of the Pig!

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Best restaurants in the U.S. and World

laliste logo

There are many “best restaurant” lists. I found one by La Liste which provides a fairly transparent methodology for their ranking of their top 1000 restaurants in the world.

I’ve extracted the top restaurants in the U.S. from this list; there are 90 of them. Here they are. I’ve bolded the ones I’ve eaten at – including the top-rated Guy Savoy in Paris that I had the great pleasure of dining at in December 2018.

RESTAUANT LOCATION SCORE (%)
Guy Savoy Paris, France 99.75
Le Bernardin New York 99.75
The French Laundry Yountville 99.25
Eleven Madison Park New York 99.25
The Inn at Little Washington Washington 98.75
Blue Hill at Stone Barns Tarrytown 97.75
Jean-Georges New York 97.50
The Restaurant at Meadowood Saint Helena 97.50
Alinea Chicago 97.00
Daniel New York 96.50
Manresa Los Gatos 95.25
Del Posto New York 94.75
Saison San Francisco 94.25
Per Se New York 93.00
Guy Savoy (USA) Las Vegas 92.25
Atelier Crenn San Francisco 91.75
Providence Los Angeles 90.50
Coi San Francisco 88.50
Picasso at the Bellagio Las Vegas 87.00
Pineapple and Pearls Washington 87.00
Uchu New York 87.00
Gabriel Kreuther New York 86.75
minibar by José Andres Washington 86.25
Masa New York 85.50
Spago Beverly Hills Beverly Hills 85.50
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare New York 85.25
The Modern New York 84.75
Oriole Chicago 84.50
Quince San Francisco 84.00
Benu San Francisco 84.00
Melisse Santa Monica 83.75
Marea New York 83.25
Momofuku Ko New York 83.00
Atera New York 82.75
Gary Danko San Francisco 82.75
Acquerello San Francisco 82.25
Aquavit New York 81.75
Everest Chicago 81.50
Bouley New York 81.25
Plume Washington 81.25
The Bazaar by José Andres Los Angeles 81.25
Jungsik New York 81.00
Acadia Chicago 81.00
Gramercy Tavern New York 81.00
Aska Brooklyn 81.00
Lukshon Culver City 81.00
Smyth Chicago 81.00
Eight Tables by George Chen San Francisco 81.00
The Lost Kitchen Freedom 81.00
Blanca New York 80.75
Cut by Wolfgang Puck (Beverly Hills) Beverly Hills 80.75
Farmhouse Restaurant Forestville 80.75
Blue Hill New York 80.75
Gotham Bar and Grill New York 80.75
Lazy Bear San Francisco 80.75
Sushi Ginza Onodera New York 80.75
Baumé Palo Alto 80.50
Joël Robuchon (USA) Las Vegas 80.50
Michael Mina San Francisco 80.50
The Plumed Horse Saratoga 80.50
Ai Fiori New York 80.50
Cafe Boulud New York 80.50
Sushi Yasuda New York 80.50
Fiola Washington 80.50
Babbo New York 80.25
NoMad New York 80.25
Sushi Nakazawa New York 80.25
Addison San Diego 80.00
Chef Mavro Honolulu 80.00
Menton Boston 80.00
Studio Laguna Beach 80.00
Campton Place Restaurant San Francisco 80.00
Blackbird Chicago 80.00
Commander’s Palace New Orleans 80.00
La Grenouille New York 80.00
Vetri Philadelphia 80.00
Georgian Room Sea Island 80.00
Twist by Pierre Gagnaire Las Vegas 80.00
Carbone New York 80.00
Kyo Ya New York 80.00
é by José Andres Las Vegas 80.00
Agern New York 80.00
Californios San Francisco 80.00
n/naka Los Angeles 80.00
Trois Mec Los Angeles 80.00
Q Sushi Los Angeles 80.00
Le Pigeon Portland 80.00
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon New York 80.00
Vespertine Culver City 80.00
SingleThread Healdsburg 80.00
ATOMIX New York 80.00

 

Roasted Brine-soaked Chicken

Chicken on Vertical Roaster

Brining is essential for a juicy, flavorful roast chicken. Brining is simple to do, and with a vertical chicken roaster and digital cooking thermometer with probe, roasting requires little work and is fairly foolproof. The result is so tasty, unless you don’t have time to do the brining or roasting, there’s no reason to ever buy a supermarket-roasted chicken again.

Ingredients:

1 4 to 5 pound whole chicken, thoroughly washed
1/4 c kosher salt
1/4 c sugar
2 T black peppercorns, freshly cracked
2 T minced or crushed garlic

Dissolve the kosher salt and sugar in about 2 cups of boiling water. After thoroughly dissolved, add about 1 quart ice cubes with water to cool the hot brine. Stir in the crushed peppercorns and garlic.

Stand the chicken, vent side up, in a 1 gallon Ziploc freezer bag, in a tall stockpot. (I use an 8 qt. Calphalon stockpot; it makes the bagged chicken easier to handle, catches any overflow or leaked brine, and fits nicely in my refrigerator.) Pour the brine into the bag, aiming at the vent to concentrate the pepper and garlic inside the chicken. (If you wish, add the neck piece and gizzards; don’t brine the liver or heart – clean, lightly flour and gently pan fry these separately as a snack.) Zip the bag closed, squeezing out all the air, adding cold water, as needed, so the bag is completely filled with brine when zipped closed. (This will ensure all parts of the chicken are brined. Having put the bag in the pot, any overflow will be caught by the pot, preventing a mess.) Soak the chicken from 4 to 12 hours in the refrigerator.

Remove the chicken from the brine. Strain the brine through a fine sieve to preserve the pepper and garlic and put it into the cavity; discard the brine. Stand the chicken on a vertical chicken roaster on a small pan to catch the juices. Insert the neck piece and gizzards under a flap of the neck skin. (If you’d like a crisper skin on the roast chicken, pour boiling water over the chicken skin to firm it up and let the chicken air dry for about an hour before roasting.) Roast the chicken in a 350° oven until the thigh meat (away from the bone) reaches 175-180°. Remove from oven and let the roasted chicken rest at least 20 minutes before slicing. Reserve and de-fat the pan juices for making a sauce. Because of the brining, even the white meat will still be moist and it will all be very flavorful.

VARIATIONS. Add herbs, spices, soy sauce, or Japanese mirin to the brine. Use brown sugar, honey or molasses in place of the sugar (some sweetness tends to offset a saltiness the brine might otherwise impart). Use apple juice, cider, orange juice, beer, wine, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, stock, tea, or other liquids to replace some or all of the water.

The same method can be used for roast turkey (soak 1-2 days; use a jumbo 2 to 3 gallon freezer bag and vertical turkey roaster), roast pork loin, or pork chops. Also check out http://whatscookingamerica.net/Poultry/BriningPoultry.htm

Dan Dan Noodles

My British-born foodie friend, Bethia Woolf, sent me a link to an article by noted British Chinese-food writer Fuchsia Dunlop on Classic Dan Dan Noodles. As a Sichuan dish, Dan Dan Noodles is not something I grew up with, but have enjoyed a few times in restaurants. I’ve made versions at home using sauce from jars, so when I saw the recipe, I thought I’d give it a try. I’m glad I did!

Photograph: Jean Cazals from The Guardian articleThe recipe provided looked simple enough. I had most of the items in my pantry or freezer. The two of concern, though, were Chinese Alkali Noodles and Sweet Fermented Sauce. I did a little research and headed out to one of my local Asian supermarkets where I managed to find just one example of each.

I scanned the store’s noodle shelves for yellow colored noodles and found one with sodium carbonate – an alkali – as an ingredient. Okay, that was easy.

Then I searched for the sauce. I had cruised the Internet and found it’s called Tian Mian Jiang, also called Sweet Bean Sauce, and is used for Peking Duck (not Hoisin Sauce, as I’ve always believed). It’s made from fermented flour and soybeans. I found this jar with flour and soybeans listed as the only ingredients (hard to read and impossible to photograph, since it’s black type on a clear label against the black sauce).

Missing ingredients in hand, I converted Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe to American measures, made a few other adjustments, and tried it. The alkali noodles really do make a difference: They keep their nice chewy texture. It was delicious – and simple! No more need for the sauce from a jar! I’m adding it to my standard repertoire.

Classic Dan Dan Noodles – adapted from a recipe by Fuchsia Dunlop
Serves 2

3 T cooking oil
4 oz minced pork
1 T Shaoxing wine
1 t sweet bean sauce
1 t light soy sauce
7 oz Chinese alkali wheat flour noodles

For the sauce:
1 c
 chicken stock (or noodle cooking water)
2 t light soy sauce
¼ t salt
1 t Chinkiang vinegar
2 T chili oil with pepper flakes, or more to taste
4 T scallion greens, sliced across the stalk into small rings
5 T Tianjin preserved vegetables, diced

Stir fry the pork in oil in a skillet or pot until it loses its red color, pressing the meat against the pan with a cooking spatula or spoon to separate out into small, but still juicy pieces. Add the wine, stir a few times, then add the sweet bean sauce and stir-fry until you can smell it. Add soy sauce and salt to taste. Pour cooked pork into a plate to hold.

Boil water in a pot to cook the noodles. In a separate pot, heat the stock. Boil the noodles according to suggested time on the package (mine said 3-4 minutes). While they are cooking, place all the sauce ingredients except for the stock in a serving bowl.

When the noodles are ready, drain them in a colander (reserving some of the cooking water if you are not using stock). Add the stock or noodle cooking water to the sauce in the serving bowl. Place the noodles in the bowl, top with the pork and serve. Before eating, give the noodles a good stir until the sauce and meat are evenly distributed.

How to Peel a Banana

Having learned a different way to peel an orange from my sister after 50 years of doing it the wrong way, I stumbled upon another fruit I had been peeling incorrectly for decades: bananas.

Lifehacker’s post Open a Banana like a Monkey opened my eyes as well. The basic lesson: Instead of peeling from the stem end, imitate monkeys and peel from the bottom end, pinching the end to separate a skin section. Much easier! (By the way, my clever sister said she’s always done it this way too!)

Having learned new ways to shuck corn, peel oranges, and now, peel bananas, I wonder how may other techniques I’ve been doing wrong for all these years! Well, at least I’ve proved that this old dog can learn new tricks!

How to Peel an Orange

I grew up peeling oranges the way my father taught me: With a knife, cut through the skin and pith down from the stem end to the bottom, with 4 cuts. Pierce the little scar where the stem was with the tip of a knife and peel down each of the 4 quarters of skin. I’ve been doing this for over 50 years and thought this was the only way to peel an orange.

Then a few years ago, my sister showed me that she peeled an orange differently. She did the same scoring, but started peeling from the navel end towards the stem. I tried it and found my sister was brilliant! On most types of orange, the skin comes off much more easily that way!

I was looking through You Tube for videos illustrating the difference for this blog and I discovered those aren’t the only ways to peel an orange. Here’s one that’s a variant of the method my father taught me, slicing off the top and bottom of the orange and scoring the peel into 6 or more pieces instead of 4:

How to peel an orange – the easy and clean way

Then I found yet another, totally different method:

How to Peel an Orange the Russian Way!

This looks messier, but you get a half of a skin to use as an orange oil candle – or to fill with sherbet and freeze as a self-contained dessert. Others videos show a variant of this method, massaging the skin to loosen it from the fruit before scoring and peeling.

Looking through You Tube there are even more ways including a nice way of cutting to make pieces of cut orange for a fruit salad:

After so many decades of peeling oranges one way, I’ll now keep looking and trying other methods. So far, though, I think I’ll end up using the “cut off the top and bottom and score into 6 sections” method but peel from the bottom end to the top.

A Better Way to Shuck Corn!

I have to share this new discovery while we’re at the peak of fresh corn season on a remarkable way to shuck corn!

I love fresh corn on the cob – enough to put up with the time and hassle of peeling off the husks and fastidiously pulling off the silk so it doesn’t get caught between my teeth. Then, just a week ago, I saw a  posting about a better way to cook and shuck corn – so interesting that I especially looked forward to visiting my local farmers market.

Fresh corn in hand, I simply placed them into the oven to convection roast at 350º for 30 minutes. Remove the corn from the oven and let them sit until they’re just cool enough to handle (several minutes) – or use gloves while they’re still hot. Some of the recipes on this process say the de-husking must be done while the corn is still warm.

Cut each ear with a serrated knife just past the point where the stem connects to the corn cob, cutting off the first ring or two of kernels. This will leave enough room for the ear to slide out of the husk.

Grasp the top of the corn with the silk and shake the ear. The corn will start to emerge and will come out easily, leaving the silk in the husk.

Voila! A clean ear of corn with almost no time shucking and a very easy cleanup!

Now talk about coincidences, just today I was listening to a book on tape: Jonah Burger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On. In it, he describes a YouTube video that went viral: Shucking Corn — Clean Ears Everytime. It was posted in Sep. 2011 and shows the same process, except for microwaving for 4 minutes per ear instead of oven roasting. Here’s the video:

I tried the microwaving for 4 minutes per ear, for 2 ears at a time in my microwave oven. I had to cut off part of the long stems to fit on my microwave’s turntable, but the corn turned out fine. It slipped out of the husks easier than the oven roasted ears did and they taste the same. I also tried cutting the ends off the cooked ears with a heavy Chinese cleaver instead of a heavy serrated knife and it cut easily as well.

After so many years of shucking corn the old fashioned way, peeling away the husk leaves and silk, then picking at the remaining pieces of silk, then cleaning up the loose corn silk that has scattered around the kitchen, this is really a remarkable discovery! It even makes the shucking chore fun!

As to taste, the corn seems to be as fresh and sweet as by using the usual shuck and steam method. I’ve seen some recipes recommend washing the corn and cutting off the top silk to remove dirt that would impart a bad taste to the corn. My hand-picked farm corn is very clean, so I didn’t bother to do so and it tasted fine.

From an early age, I learned that the sugar in fresh corn starts turning to starch the moment it’s picked. So I try to find corn that has been picked just before I buy it. That seemed to be easier out east than here in Ohio, but this fast way of cooking and shucking corn means there’s little excuse not to cook it the minute I get them home, so they should be as sweet as possible.

Give it a try – and have fun!